Bravado has swept through the church as local congregations have begun to defy the lock-down guidelines issued by their local governments. I type today not to condemn or support such action. Undoubtedly there is a time and place for civil disobedience. Depending upon where you live, that day may be today.
But as we decide the best way forward for our congregations, I want to remind elders, deacons, and church members that their churches are not comprised of special forces platoons equipped to run roughshod over all that stands in their way. Rather like Moses, we lead camps filled with young mothers, vulnerable children, weak cancer patients, irresponsible teenagers, and aging senior adults. When we oppose the government, we risk the health and safety of both the weak and the strong.
Indeed, the day for such stands will come. They existed in years past. I have the greatest respect for Corrie Ten Boom’s eighty-four -year-old father who willing died in a German concentration camp, preferring the gospel command to love his neighbor above his personal safety.
But for most of us (the residents of Nevada sadly reside in a very different paradigm), the restrictions have not singled out churches. Christians have not been persecuted, yet.
According to history, these pandemic guidelines will be brief. Pandemics usually run their course in about one to two years. Most will not last that long. Life will go back to normal and society will forget the ‘horrors’ that once dominated the news cycle. For example, few to none of us remember that the city of New York killed 72,000 cats and 8,000 dogs in 1916 in an effort to prevent the spread of Polio. Our collective forgetfulness proves that the guidelines of today will soon fade into the wasteland of lost memories. In a few weeks or months, the world will return to ‘normal.’
Until then, I believe the Jesus who welcomed vulnerable little children into his inner circle would desire for us to sacrifice our Sunday morning norms to create environments where all members could worship without facing harm.
If men and women become sick and/or die because we hastily return to our per-COVID19 practices, we will weaken our churches and do harm to our gospel witness. The church needs its weak brothers and sisters, even those over eighty. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,
Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also the strong need cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.
Before we embrace a plan for the future, we must determine whether or not it benefits both the strong and the weak in our midst. A plan that helps one group while harming the other is incomplete.
Times of persecution will come as the Ten Boom’s life make clear. When the days are dark, churches and their members will need to take stands that risk the wellbeing of all of their members. But such stands should always be the last option, not the first or the second.
If we can move forward and worship in such a way that protects the most vulnerable among us, why would we risk harming them?